Traversing Fantasy: Repetition & Drive

An indefinite game is one that could last forever not just by the players’ explicit efforts, but because it is structured to last indefinitely. Although an indefinite game will have certain markers of progress, like experience levels in Dungeons & Dragons, there is not a terminal state representing success within the structure of the game. There may still likely be a terminal state representing failure, e.g. character death, but even this can be remedied by creating a new character and starting over. Above all, the indefinite game is a fantasy simulator in that it allows the player qua subject to endlessly pursue goal after goal without terminal resolution. The player can keep fantasizing as they keep playing. This is homologous to Lacan’s notion of the plus-de-jouir, the subject’s drive: there is always something else to desire because nothing fully satisfies.

Drive is key to indefinity. Any game worthy of the moniker of 'game' must transform the player into a subject by forcing them to desire, that is by telling them what they lack. In Hungry Hungry Hippos, you become a certain hungry hungry hippo who desires to eat more marbles than the other hungry hungry hippos. The difference between Hungry Hungry Hippos and Dungeons & Dragons, besides the difference in interface, is that the game terminates when there are no more marbles left for any of the hungry hungry hippos to eat. One player wins and the satisfaction wears off. They might play another game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, or they might move onto something else entirely. In contrast, Dungeons & Dragons offers one goalpost after another. It is a self-contained fantasy where the player qua subject does not have to stop desiring, and they are driven toward treasure after treasure (and experience level after experience level) indefinitely.

Cooperation also lends itself to indefinity. Really, the subject of Dungeons & Dragons is not the individual character, but the assemblage of characters which (despite their individuality) desire together as one under the interface of the game master. Needless to say, this unity is unstable because of potential conflicts of interest and so on and so on, but the conceit of cooperation allows players to strive towards that unity regardless. By principle, a game where characters act against each other is more likely to be definite because there exists a terminal state where one character overpowers the rest.

Consider a modification of Dungeon! where there is indeed a dungeon master who represents the actions of each player character competing against each other, locating the competitive drive underneath the interface of Dungeons & Dragons. Such a game is not impossible to imagine, especially because the role of objective referee originated in freeform war games (not to mention in physical sports, albeit with a lesser responsibility). Even more so because already when a player character dies in Dungeon! they simply start over. However, Dungeon! is not an indefinite game. It terminates when someone enters the ‘Great Hall’ with the minimum treasure required to win. That is to say that goalposts cannot be shifted indefinitely for a competitive game, where in effect each competitor is a goalpost. The ultimate satisfaction is derived from besting one’s competitors for once and for all.

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